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Heavier than Piece of Mind, and more satanic than Show No Mercy, it’s Melissa! Like with Diamond Head 30 years ago, Metallica covering half the material from this classic has introduced this super evil satanic power metal band to a new generation of fans (even if half of them are too retarded to look up the actual album). The underground success of this album was proof that traditional metal was still relevant outside Maiden, Priest and Ozzy. It's also worth mentioning that "Into The Coven" was on the PMRC's list of filthy fifteen songs that all suburban white kids should go out and buy a zillion copies of. But unlike the hilariously harmless "We're Not Gonna Take It" Into The Coven had lines like "Suck the blood from this unholy knife, say with it after me...my soul BELONGS TO SATAN!" Oh yes, this shit was the real fucking deal!
Also, no, I'm not being ironic by calling this power metal, because that's exactly what this is. NOT early black metal. I honestly think most black and death metal circles try to claim Mercyful Fate is heavier than they actually are just to be assholes. I get that the old heads of black metal are frustrated that kids these days don't like to consider anything before Blaze In The Northern Sky officially black metal, and I agree, it is ignorant as hell. Venom? Black metal. Celtic Frost? Black metal. Early Sodom, Slayer and Destruction? Black metal. But this? Musically, these songs have way more in common with Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne then they do Venom, Slayer or even Motorhead. The album's so called "fastest" moment is probably the last minute or so of Evil, but that's more of a double-time crescendo than it is a straight fast number. Even so, its the speed of Let Us Prey as opposed to Fast As A Shark and Ace of Spades, to say nothing of Black Magic and Metal Militia. Even the common cry of "but the lyrics are Satanic all the way through" doesn't hold up under scrutiny because last time I checked Egypt and the Pharaohs had nothing to do with Hell or satan. So its Judas Priest worship, it has very high vocals, it sings about demons, swords and curses.....it's power metal.
Of course a major point of contention is King Diamond’s terrifying vocals, which are the stuff of legend. You hear about how they piss some metal heads off and that they must be the most powerful, threatening, heavy vocals in metal but instead we get... well something at times that sounds like a goofy ghost cartoon character. But like pre-Gamma Ray Kai Hansen, Diamond’s voice suits Fate’s music perfectly. If there is any flaw with this album and Fate’s sound, it’s the sometimes the guitar players are soloing when there’s also an excellent riff being played by the backing rhythm. Guys, you’re supposed to let the riff breathe and stand out. Shit like this is why I could never pay attention to Eric Clapton as a lead player, the riffs underneath were too good! That and perhaps I would have switched the running order so that the album ended with the crushing epic Satan’s Fall. Though these days I'm not quite sure if that's the prime cut on here, as it's not exactly the most coherent epic song in metal. It is more coherent than say....Iced Earth's Dante's Inferno but you can kind of tell its a bunch of leftover ideas but together. For what its worth they are paced very well!
If you've heard the Metallica medley and are wondering what you're missing, I suppose I should be a snob and say everything, but vocal delivery aside, I'd say you'd heard 80% Evil, 40% of Into The Coven (can you imagine James in that country voice of his telling listeners to suck the blood from a knife and say with him "My soul belongs to Satan?"), 60% of Curse of The Pharoahs, and 15% of Satan's Fall. Those of you who've no idea what comes after that "Got to succeed if not its Satan's Fall" are in for an unsettling surprise (and probably a few sleepless nights as well)
Mercyful Fate is a band that separates the metal men from the metal boys. Melissa and Don’t Break The Oath are essential!
At The Sound of The Demon Bell
Into The Coven
Yesterday I was walking with my friend's kid and his buddy, who both claim that they are huge metal fans. When I mentioned Mercyful Fate they asked me who the fuck they are. Now, on the one hand, I'm very proud to be one of those people who were around at the time when this and bunch of other great bands were releasing their masterpieces. Especially 1983, we had Show No Mercy, Kill 'Em All, Peace Of Mind, Court In The Act and the whole load of other, then underground, bands finding themselves a place in the 80's metal scene. And on the other hand, for fuck's sake, you kids nowadays have whole world under your fingertips, you can download every single album on this world, you have youtube as well... And I know nowadays bands suck, but if you are searching for a good metal band, you are definitely going to find some.
I got this album a bit late, by the end of the 1985 (before even hearing Fate's first EP) and decided that this is the most evil record I listened to, and it stayed till this day. These guys just knew how to make a good album. I bought an album in my local record shop mainly because of cover and by the way, I saw that the tracks have great titles also. And, hell, I wasn't disappointed at all!!! True, the vocals seemed a little strange for me, but I got used to them very quickly and they became my favorite part of the band.
OK, first of all, the song selection is dead on. They haven't put the weaker songs that they had on the demos in the years before this, they have put just great songs on this LP. All of the 7 songs on this album are the stories for themselves. Modern "metal" bands release everything that comes to their mind because they think: "Oh, what the fuck, we haven't got much to lose! It is better to have 20 mediocre and below average songs than to actually get our shit together and release a good album with 7 quality songs on it".
Of course, the vocals. Yeah, King Diamond's vocals are what made the band famous (although this band has a lot of the other qualities) and definitely are the most recognizable in metal music. And he actually is main reason why this band is so evil. Music itself is some good NWOBHM inspired stuff with a lot of influences by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin as well. King's vocals are incredibly evil, and lyrics (most of them written by KD also) are extremely satanic, so take those two out and you have a solid classic metal release.
Riffs, riffs, riffs. And then some riffs. Cooperation between two extraordinary talented guitarists, and, above all, songwriters seems to be the best in metal, just in the class of Glenn and Downing, Dave and Adrian, Kerry and Jeff... Well, you get it. And the best part: these two gentlemen knew how to do solos. Along with Megadeth and Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate has just the best solos in the metal. Very creative solos, you have the slow, fast, minor, even major ones. From the renaissance styled solo in the beginning of the Into The Coven to the rapid one after the first verse in Evil, every solo is thought-out. Oh, yeah, did I mention how fucking awesome the riffs are?
Now the rhythm section. Bass is great on this one, not as much as on the following record, but still fantastic job done there. Timi Hansen has done some work with King, after the band split-up, and he just proved that he is great bass player that every band whishes they have. As for the drums... Well it is quite obvious that the drums are nailed on "Melissa". Creative drumming, sometimes following the guitars, with some complicated rhythm patterns, gave great base for the band to do their stuff.
Production is done faithfully and gives space for every instrument to show its potential. The only objection I have is that I think that the album should've been opened with Into The Coven instead of Evil. Anyhow, with the powerful opener Evil, band tells you: "Prepare your ear! There's going to be many great songs like this!". Curse Of The Pharaohs is another song that can easily be find on the most of the band's setlist, with intro that adorably reminds of the riffs used in Swords And Tequila, Welcome To Hell, 2 Minutes To Midnight, Phantoms Of Death, and the list goes on.. That riff is very popular in the metal, and it fits inhere good. Into The Coven, like I said before, good intro, purely evil lyrics and great vocals provided by King Diamond. And then, very strangely underrated At The Sound Of The Demon Bell provides us cool lyrics combined with as always great guitars and rhythm section. B-side of the vinyl starts with Black Funeral. I mean, seriously, isn't this one of the most copied songs in the metal? Many black metal bands use the similar chord progression and Ghost have this song written all over their discography. Even some thrash metal bands used connatural pattern in their pieces of art. Next song is the 11 minutes long Satan's Fall. You see, the intro solo is great example how to start a song with the guitar solo. Song has its faster and slower parts and all of them are topping! And the closer, Melissa. Yeah, King is the fantastic vocalist, but rapid songs like Evil and Doomed By The Living Dead fit him better. Yet, he made it through and gave us one great ballad.
What can I say? This album is masterpiece. Everything on this album works just as it should, making this album highly influential on the subgenres like black, speed, thrash, power, progressive and even doom metal, because this album contains a bit of all mentioned genres. I think this album is one of the most representative in the early eighties. An advice for every metal fan: Go and get it! You can't go wrong with Mercyful Fate!!!
I once dated a girl named Melissa. She was pretty weird and thought this album was about her. She might have been right because she was the goddamn devil.
I honestly don’t think that any band could hail Satan harder than Mercyful Fate. This album is actually almost sweet in the way it does it, too. There are legitimately beautiful guitar parts in just about every song, which is a weird contrast to lyrics praising Lucifer…and lyrics that I’m pretty sure are about necrophilia (“Evil”) (not really radio friendly material here). Add to that the vocals, which are sometimes inexplicable, and you’ve got “Melissa.”
It sounds a little dated, but not in a grating “fuck, if cocaine and Reaganomics made music with the Cold War, it would be this” kind of way. More in a “did druids write this? Did MF rip off druids?” kind of way. Definitely ‘80s metal, yet sort of classical and timeless.
I don’t usually feel this way about an album, but there is no filler here. All seven songs on this record are excellent, and I have no trouble listening to “Melissa” as a whole without feeling like I’m slogging through half-assed songs here and there. No, these songs were all written with Mercyful Fate’s whole collective ass. Definitely A+ work, fellas. Gold stars all around.
Let’s talk about the vocals, because it is fucking physically impossible to talk about Mercyful Fate without talking about King Diamond’s imitation of a possessed old woman. Seriously, the body compels it.
Let’s just get this little bit of heresy out of the way: the vocals are hokey. I mean, come the fuck on, King Diamond. I know you don’t just sing that way. I gotta tell you: if “Melissa” didn’t have that falsetto, it would STILL be an excellent and unique album. The falsetto is done (more or less) judiciously and adds more to set “Melissa” apart from the rest of the herd. As contrived as they are, the vocals do add a layer of eeriness to the music which really increases the atmosphere. So I guess no harm, no foul. Be as hokey as you want as long as you can make it work. Dress up like an asshole, use a mic stand made of bones, and screech like your great-grandmother when she loses her hearing aid…just make sure it makes sense.
I’ve always kinda been scared that King Diamond is actually magic, and now I’m worried that he might curse me for saying he dresses like an asshole, so I’ll end this review with some good vibes: This is definitely one of my favorite metal albums of all time. As strange and off putting as the vocals can be to a first time listener, the music itself is still very accessible and enjoyable.
Don’t curse me, bro.
Mercyful Fate is a heavy metal band from Denmark of all places that gained a huge cult following during the early 1980s, thanks to their dark and incredibly atmospheric sound, virtuoso solos and gothic lyrics that were rather obsessed with the occult. This was their debut album and holy shit does it kick some serious ass. This is widely considered to be the band's heaviest album, due to it being more bass driven than their other albums, which I will get to later, but I think that the vocals are also a bit different. However, that's just what my ears hear when I find myself listening to this album. As well-known by the metal community as this is, it is still criminally underrated. This is the band who brought satanic worship to metal (no, not venom). This is a band who made perfect music in their early days. This was a band who deserved the popularity of Slayer or Judas Priest more than any first wave black metal band (as much as I love Bathory).
This is the way that this album starts off: you have absolutely no preparation time in the form of a soft intro. The moment that it starts playing, you hear the main riff to "Evil" and you know that this is gonna be an album with balls. I used to personally find the riff to be a little annoying, but I was too distracted by everything else to care all that much. But once I trained myself to look at this album with fresh eyes, I was completely overwhelmed. The song is thunderous, gothically atmospheric and tops it off with some blazing vocals and a kickass guitar solo. Also, I like how it threw in the "Eye Of The Tyger" riff for shits and giggles. The next song that really stands out to me is "Into The Covin", which starts off with a cool, gloomy intro and then dives into a fist pumping, occult anthem with one of the best solos that I've recently heard. The 11-minute epic, "Satan's Fall" gets a little repetitive but stays cool anyways. My last highlight would have to be the title track. For a ballad, it's pretty heavy and it has some pretty well-structured rhythms and guitar work.
There are two things that stand out to me the most on this album. One is the soloing. Hank Shermann and Michael Denner give us some seriously awesome solos. They are very technical solos, but they have a lot of that soul. That doesn't occur entirely too often. Air guitarists worldwide would rock out to this if it was as well known as an AC/DC album. They sound a bit like a cross between Alex Lifeson and Glenn Tipton, but with a more gothic twist, though not as much as the rest of the music. The guitar riffs are rooted in Judas Priest, as well as what Iron Maiden was at the time, even a bit of Angel Witch. However, there is an atmospheric twist on them. Just listen to the riffs on "Into The Coven" to comprehend it. It has a spectacular sound that was unmatched at the time.
The other highlight would be the vocals. As I said before, the vocals seem a bit different. On the follow-up to this album, "Don't Break The Oath", there were times when it would get a bit nasally. It worked when he did it, but it is a difference worth pointing out. Here, they stay pure and soaring the whole way through. King Diamond has gotten a bit of shit, due to his usage of falsetto, however, I quite enjoy it. In my opinion, it does an amazing job of bringing atmosphere to the music. He also has an amazing range. He can go from a low growl to a high-pitched banshee wail in an extraordinarily short amount of time. He can either sound as evil as possible or even angelic. This is the definition of a vocalist with a wide range. Just listen to him tell the story of The Puppet Master in order to fully comprehend it.
Now back to what I said about the bass-heavy sound. It does make this album turn out to be heavier than others, but even still, it isn't quite as down as Shout At The Devil or Welcome to Hell. It can be a bit exaggerated sometimes. I'm not saying that heavier means better, but just say it as it is. However, I will say that it compliments the tone. very raw, yet crisp and suits the melodic guitar work of the album. If you want a Venom clone here in terms of production and tone, prepare to be disappointed. This is better than anything done by that band. Not too much else to say on that really. That's about it.
Overall, this is an monumental debut studio album by a truly talented band. It's difficult to be this mature, musically and professionally when you are this inexperienced in the studio. The record's influence on modern metal, both musically and in some cases, lyrically cannot be denied by anyone. It's blend of gothic heavy metal and what was a prototype of lyrical black metal comes together to make an absolutely splendid release. Pretty much everything in the early career of this band is completely flawless. It was the pinnacle of both their career, as well as the career of King Diamond himself. The melodies are terrific and the lyricism was highly ahead of its time for the genre. They took what Angel Witch started and perfected it, then took it straight to Hell. I didn't like this album as much when I first heard it, but every track has grown on me to the point of praise. I have never seen it do differently for anyone else, therefore I encourage you to give it a listen. Disappointment is completely out of the question. This is one of the greatest metal albums of all time.
The album in front of us is Mercyful Fate's debut. This is one of the greatest metal albums of all time. Every song is at least good, and the instrumentation is much improved from the EP. The production here is also much better than previously, and while both aspects would improve even more on the sophomore, this has a few standout aspects of its own.
The atmosphere on this album is to kill for. The production here is more bass heavy than Fate or Diamond would be in the future. This gives it a certain amount of added heaviness that was missing from those albums. On my review of their EP, I commented on this album feeling like it puts you in a darkened cemetery, and I meant it. The atmosphere of this album is that of being alone, or thinking your alone, in a dark graveyard. The bass job is partly responsible for that. The stronger low-end and the occult-type lyrics definitely give this album a darker, foggier vibe than what it would have had otherwise. The production here isn't perfect, but it works to give them probably the best atmosphere these guys ever had.
Sub-genre classifications on this are tricky. A loose definition of first-wave black metal has been used, but honestly it sounds nothing like Frost or Venom. This album has that "Evil" atmosphere, but it accomplishes it differently than Frost. This isn't as naturally heavy as that sound and relies more upon the unnatural vocals and lyrics. While I feel most thrashers could enjoy this and it influenced a ton of it, it is still unlike most thrash, vocally and musically, as it sounds largely untouched by hardcore. Power or prog aren't too far off, but this really doesn't directly resemble any power metal that I've heard. As for prog, I'll get to that in a moment. Usually I just settle on referring to this as early metal, but it's not very clear.
On a sonic level, you would start out with Judas Priest on Stained Class. First, you increase the Led Zeppelin influence at the expense of Black Sabbath. I really hear exceedingly little of them in this music. It's metal, so there is some, but it's very little. The Zep influence shows up in a stronger, groove-oriented rhythm section, which drives the music here far more than it ever did for Priest. Now slow it down a little, yes for coming afterwards, this is a little slower than that album. Lastly, this features Diamond, who functions far differently than any of the previous bands' vocalists. This gives an idea for the sound as a whole. As you can tell, there's a big 70's feel to this music. That is why I don't classify this music as prog, as they just borrow so much from a progressive era as a whole.
To a more instrument-by-instrument look, there really isn't a single star, they're all suns. The guitar duo is on, the Stained Class comparison was not an exaggeration. For two albums, Shermann and Denner were breathing that Tipton and Downing air. Yes, Curse of the Pharaohs has that oft-used riff, but it really is the best song that it's on. As well, the riffs to Satan's Fall, Evil, and the chorus riff to Into the Coven are genius. They're not very technical, but they work outstandingly nonetheless. The neoclassical touches aren't as strong as they would be on future albums, but it still shows up from time to time. The solos here are fine, but the riffs are what you'll remember. I also need to mention how much these songs change. The five minute songs have as many changes as most long epics do. There's plenty of bands who can vary their music in this way, but not to the extent or with the skill that these guys did. Shermann mentioned once in an interview that he wanted to riff like Judas Priest and solo like Schenker and Uli. He had the first one down on this one and the second part by the next.
Ruzz is the groove god of early metal. I'd seen Holland referred to as a good groove drummer, and I thought it was a euphemism to excuse his suck. Then I heard this album. Ruzz doesn't have a ton of technique, but he has more groove than any heavy metal drummer prior, and he is very close to Bonham outside of it. He isn't often mentioned as an elite drummer, but there's not many that I'd take over him. Grabber is a good bass player, and he is audible on most of this album. He doesn't match his idol, Steve Harris, but he's better than Hill or Lemmy. As I mentioned previously, their groove drives much more of the music than expected if you're more used to their later stuff. Considering the way this album is mixed, this is the best chance to hear them. They improved slightly going forward, but not enough to make this less of an example of their playing.
Diamond is definitely a gut-reaction. You will either like him the first time you hear him, or you won't. He isn't a grower. If you like him, it's awesome. If not, it is probably still worth it to hear the music and atmosphere. As I mentioned previously, he varies his voice more on this one than any other. I would liken the variety to that of Screaming for Vengeance, you get a little of every register. I should mention that compared to Halford, Diamond has a naturally lower, more human voice. For whatever reason, Halford can hit notes naturally that most even higher vocalists strain for. Diamond is in fact much lower naturally. He could probably go pretty guttural if he wanted. This means that while his middle and lower lines can be forceful, his high notes are pure falsetto. They aren't head voice like Halford, Dio, Dickinson and most of the rest. Diamond gets this high from the tips of his vocal chords, which is probably the only way for a Baritone to get as high as he can without being a once-in-a-lifetime talent. I mention all of this to note than even a Maiden fan who loves Dickinson's range could hate this. I personally enjoy Diamond's vocals, but quite a few don't.
I hold this album as one of the ten or so greatest metal albums of all time. I feel this qualifies it for a very high score. I do just barely enjoy the follow-up more, but that is splitting hairs. They each have their particular strengths. For a couple of albums, Fate was as good as any metal band has ever been. Honestly, I think every metal fan should hear this to see where their favorites come from. In terms of who I would expect to enjoy this, I would say early, thrash, prog, hard rock, and maybe power metal fans should enjoy this quite well.
Perhaps the only tangible quip I could launch against Mercyful Fate's seminal debut is that, compared to the King's next six full-length records (from both Fate and his solo band), I hold Melissa in somewhat lesser regard, owed largely to the fact that the sum songwriting is marginally less infectious. Just about every stylistic die had been cast here which would serve Kim and his companions for decades hence, but in terms of sheer riffing stickiness and atmosphere, this album just doesn't have the same gallery of chops and leads as its successors. That being said, this album still deserves the forklifts of accolades dumped upon it, because Melissa remains one of the highlights of 1983. One of the better overall European metal records of the earlier 80s outside England. Heck, apart from Don't Break the Oath and the band's more divisive reunion disc In the Shadows (which I happen to favor, others not so much), it's probably the one mandatory purchase in their discography.
Melissa was actually my second exposure to Fate, having first bought the sophomore at a young age, and I admit it was underwhelming at first, if only because I had enjoyed the other tape more. But not only does this debut age well, it has managed to never accumulate much dust on its surface in going on thirty fucking years! Melissa still feels fresh and innovative, a more complex offering than what most of the group's British peers were capable of writing at the time, and also a hallmark of strong production values and deft musicianship. It might have taken time for some to adjust to King's eery and unnerving falsetto shrieks, which he lays on pretty thick throughout this, but there is no debating the amount of effort and professionalism in the compositions. Thomas Holm's cover art is remarkable, a screaming skull that bleeds hellish red light and gives a sense of sheer monument. The lyrics are maniacal blueprints for many themes Diamond would later flesh out in both his bands, with an emphasis on history, archaic horror, and occult topics fundamental to King's later pursuance of LaVeyan Satanism.
Pacing and production are key here, integrating the critical moments of atmosphere with the thundering, primal speed metal melodies and swaggering grooves that would come to define the group's sound as it supported the chilling vocals, which in metal music had simply never gone so 'over the top' without losing the gravity and impact of their subject matter. I realize that many outsiders to the band's sound, or power/heavy metal screamers in general (Halford, Dickinson, etc) must immediately find this vocal inflection comical in nature, but there was never anything remotely 'funny' about Diamond on these old Mercyful Fate records, he was a shrill specter that I took quite seriously even if I had to adjust myself to this timbre as the primary vocal tone. He's got his grittier end, mid range register also, but it's not quite so distinct. I wouldn't say that the melodies he summons up here are nearly so unforgettable as those he'd weave in later to several of the King Diamond concept albums, but for '83 this was pretty damn ambitious even when you placed it up against a record like Piece of Mind, Bark at the Moon or Balls to the Wall.
The instruments also sound stunning, with the better balance and clarity than the band's eponymous 1982 EP. Kim Jensen's drums are loaded, with a nice slap to the snare and some great reverb to the kicks that really measure off well against the guitars, though the cymbals and hi-hat seem a fraction more muffled. The bass lines are enormous and muscular when needed, like the close of "Evil" where the guitars remind me of the primary riff in Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" before that charging power metal finale; but Timi Hansen also slinks along with a creepy class through the record's more atmospheric climes. As for the guitars, they are just beyond compare, with an effectively chunky fiber to them that allows the looser, glimmering leads to wail and writhe above and really stand out. They're also incredibly busy here, constantly twisting and turning into some new 'banger of a riff and really controlling the tempo for King's lyrical tales. The leads are usually quite brief through the album, but none of the notes seem misplaced, and I'd rather a band give me some spikes of emotion and harmony rather than indulge themselves to the detriment of the songwriting.
"Curse of the Pharaohs" is a real bruiser, and one of my all time favorite Mercyful Fate tracks, but I'd have to give "Black Funeral" the pick of the litter, a thundering and frightening piece where King's voice and the triplet rhythm collide in a moonlit, haunted tower. "Satan's Fall" is the most ambitious in terms of its length and construction, with an opening segment that feels like an occult "Immigrant Song", and some grimy and shuffling riffs deeper in which are among Shermann and Denner's most inventive (Jensen also shines here with a few cadences in the bridge). That said, there's nothing here which even hinges on 'bad'. Pieces like "At the Sound of the Demon Bell" and the bluesy "Melissa" itself might not resonate with me as much as "Gypsy", "Night of the Unborn" or "A Dangerous Meeting", but they're all well written and stuffed to the ghastly gills with conscious effort and variation. Fuck, I listen to these songs now in 2012 and they still don't give me any impression of becoming 'dated', though as a huge King Diamond nutter I'm understandably biased.
No, it's not the eeriest record in the Danes' lexicon, but along with the rest of Diamond's works from '84-'90, this is well worth breaking out for another Halloween spin, since it's lyrics and concepts of witches, Satan and the restless dead make a great accompaniment to the aesthetics of the holiday. Granted, there's nothing so obviously cheesy or 'haunted house' here like you'd find on a Cradle of Filth disc, but instead more of a bite out of classic horror antiquity, a spiritual celebration of black/white films with Lugosi and Karloff. Like Dracula, The Wolfman or The Mummy is to nearly a century of film scares, this record serves as an aesthetic monument to its medium. How many heavy, power, speed, thrash, black and doom metal acts owe so very much to Mercyful Fate? The answer would be next to incalculable, so I'll just stick to 'all of them' and you can mark your own exceptions to the rule.
All these years have passed since this record came out of Denmark and kick started the career of arguably the most iconic singer in the heavy metal world. But aside from all that shit, this album simply kicks ass. Independent of the impact it made on the careers of the band members, this album is undeniably a classic. And nothing about it has changed since then. It is just as fresh and influential as ever. Even the badass cover image has aged without a wrinkle, still evil enough to have that chilling vibe but not so much that it looks like it’s trying too hard. To say the same for the tracks that dwell within....
As with the other Danish masterpiece I found perfect, I'd recommend not wasting any more time not having this album in your collection. Seven blissful, head banging, thought-provoking, shredding, scream-your-head off songs that you will LOVE. I honestly doubted I'd ever find albums I loved and thought were as perfect as Burzum's Hviss Lyset Tar Oss, but now two Danish albums have stolen my heart.
Obviously, for completely different reasons then Hviss. Let me start off with the production (but you really should be on Amazon or something right now). I have the 25th anniversary edition luckily enough, and in the in-depth liner notes they mention how they rented the nicest studio they could find, but since it was so pricey, they had to rush and record the whole album in just 11 days! But the sound does not come off as rushed, and you can really hear the quality in the sound. The guitars have enough pop and crunch and reverb all at the right moments. The vocals sound otherworldly, but are perfectly welcome to the bed of swirling riffs and solos. The bass is there for you to enjoy, but will not interrupt the love-making you'll be having with the leads and vocals. He's just there to set the mood. And the drums are not too loud, not too quiet. This album has no production faults in my opinion. Perfect production? Check.
The song arrangements are varying and awesome. The riffs are catchy, memorable, rocking, and groovy, but the guitars are ever a pair, working off of each other’s riffs and solos with plenty of riff changes, making for a very progressive listen. Satan's Fall alone has like 16 different riffs. Just check out riffs on the bridge of Evil, the chorus of Curse of the Pharaohs and At the Sound of the Demon Bell, and the intro of Satan's Fall. You want a simpler list? The riffs that don't amaze. None. We also get some cleaner bits, both quick (Into the Coven) and somber (Melissa). Perfect guitars? Check.
The bass is grooving throughout the album, and though there are no bass solos or anything, I am more than satisfied on the low end. For the majority of the album it will be there following the guitars, but also at times creating an underlying third rhythm, both blistering and groovy. There’s more bass here then on By Inheritance, and that didn’t bother me a bit on that one. Perfect bass? Check.
The drums are excellent as you can imagine. Apparently, Kim Ruzz disappeared from the metal world after the first break up. Why? I have no fucking clue. He is awesome. Solid beats, killer fills, and great power on the skins. The man is a great drummer, but he just must not have had his heart in it anymore. Shame, but his legacy will live on. Perfect drums? Check
Do I really need to describe King Diamond’s vocals and how they are amazingly great, giving this already awesome album a unique edge? Crazy falsettos and growls and operatic shrieks? Yeah, all those things right when you want them. He IS the King. Let me just say, if you don't like his rather excessive vocal style at first, keep giving it tries until you do like it. Once you get used to it, there really is no singer quite like him. His voice is exactly what this album needed to kick into the unique classic it is. Perfect vocals? Check.
His lyrics didn't hurt, either. The story of the girl who joined the witches only to be sacrificed to Satan is very interesting and entertaining. It goes much further than most metal albums in the lyrical department, plus how awesome is it to hear ALL HAIL SATAN screamed in a high-pitched falsetto? Despite how dark and compelling the lyrics are, they maintain an extreme degree of catchinessand trust me, you will be singing along in no time. And just as the end of the song says, this album will always be with us. Perfect lyrics? Check.
Any faults? No? Any bad songs? NO!? Correct. I love every second of this album. And below in the highlights I am going to mention every track just to really drive that home, but I will rank them in order of my favourites. For simple heavy metal bliss, Melissa gets the three digits that I really don't like giving out, but I cannot deny it. Or a five out of five.
Into the Coven
Curse of the Pharaohs
At the Sound of the Demon Bell
Exploding through speakers like a heavy metal blitzkrieg from hell, Mercyful Fate set turntables on fire with their debut album Melissa. With uncompromising heaviness, impressive musicianship, and shocking satanic imagery, the album became an instant hit with metal fans the world over. The powerful and sinister style the band showcased on Melissa came to define the genre of black metal and exists today as a classic example of old-school 80’s metal.
Featuring the unique vocals their corpse-painted lead singer, the great King Diamond, as well as the rapid, skillfully-executed duel guitar stylings of Hank Shermann and Michael Denner, Melissa scorched like no other and helped push forward the boundaries of extreme metal. The band had already garnered cult status among the underground metal scene with their seminal EP Nuns Have No Fun, which featured a big-titted nun nailed to a burning crucifix on the cover, but it wasn’t until Melissa that the band refined their style and gained significant popularity.
Like an explosion of thunder crashing down from the heavens, the heavy-hitting crunch of Shermann and Denner’s duel guitar assault kick-off the album opener ‘Evil’, a track that more than lives up to its name. King Diamond’s high-pitched scream soars over the opening riff, introducing the listener to his uniquely sinister vocal style in a most epic fashion. ‘Evil’ is a driving metal song that manages to be as heavy and shocking as Venom while maintaining the hard rock groove of Deep Purple. It should also be mentioned that drummer Kim Ruzz offers an absolutely frantic and pounding performance on the song that gives it an extra boost of energy. The more traditional, NWOBHM-inspired song ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ follows, offering the listener a chance to catch their breath and immerse themselves in an ominous and wicked realm. King Diamond truly shines on this track, showing off his wide-range of vocal prowess.
The following song ‘Into the Coven’ gained notoriety in the mid-80’s when it was included on the PMRC’s hitlist of 15 songs recommended to be banned, cited for its occultism. Honestly, they chose the correct song to go after, because ‘Into the Coven’ is a powerful descent into madness, taking the listener on a ritual to sacrifice their soul to Satan. The band continue their winning streak with two more ferocious slabs of metal in ‘At the Sound of the Demon Bell’ and ‘Black Funeral’, the latter featuring perhaps King Diamond’s greatest ever vocal performance.
The epic ‘Satan’s Fall’ kicks the album up a notch in what can only be described as 11-minutes of pure Armageddon. The musicianship truly shines on this track, Shermann and Denner have a field day serving up their most devastating arsenal of riffs while the rhythm section drive the song forward with a perfect balance of power and groove. The somber and doomy ballad Melissa closes the album in a depressing way. Melissa is technically great featuring outstanding vocal melodies by King Diamond and a complex structure and musicianship, but I feel as though the album deserved a more scorching and high-energy song to close with and that Melissa should have appeared earlier on. Personal opinion aside, ‘Melissa’ is a masterfully composed and performed song by a band in their creative prime and easily holds its own among the other classics on the record.
Mercyful Fate are universally respected in the Metal community from fans across the wide spectrum of sub-genres precisely because their music features so many different elements and cannot be confined to any specific genre besides heavy fucking metal. Melissa stood out during heavy metal’s most prolific period and established Mercyful Fate as some of the most cutting edge music on the scene. The album still holds up to this day, influencing musicians and recruiting listeners to the allegiance of Satan.
Besides the original vinyl print, I recommend the 2005 Roadrunner Cd set which includes a bonus DVD and several bonus tracks one of which, Black Masses, is good enough to have been on the album itself.
These guys are a legend for a reason! Only recently I've been getting into the works King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, and I really dig what I hear. Frankly I find the Mercyful stuff to be superior if only for the darker and more metal vibe to it than King's solo metal with its hard rockish-vibed stuff. But enough about me, we're here for Mercyful Fate's "Melissa", the band's first full album after their grisly but fun 1982 self-titled EP.
This sucker just flat out rocks. It's dark, oh so evil and maddeningly catchy. First off, what can I say about King Diamond that hasn't been said 666,666 times before? Yep, he's a glorious vocalist, fully capturing all eight octaves on this album, flying from early death growls to 70's Halford-like wailing. Awesome, awesome work! Speaking of 70's, that's the vibe this whole album has despite popping up in the early 80's. From the "fuzzy", chugging guitars to folk-esque acoustic moments and the sometimes snare-heavy drumming, it feels 70's in a good way despite still packing a sonic attack. Michael Denner and Hank Shermann make for a damn solid guitar attack team, with their rushing, catchy solos and thumping semi-technicality. As with most metal albums, the bass gets buried, but Timmi "Grabber" Hansen's manages to shine here and there with it's chugging hardness, especially in songs like "Into The Coven" or "Curse of the Pharaohs". Rounding it off is Kim Ruzz drumming. He's okay. He's got a few fast fills and the like, but he's mostly just keeps the beat steady.
The seven songs on "Melissa" are pretty great in their own ways, filled with crazy good riffage, evil solos, and demonic, dark lyrics. The one-two punch of "Evil" and "Curse of the Pharaohs" start off proper, the former armed with gut-wretching speed and catchy riffage, the latter a bit more mid-paced and armed a variation on THAT riff (the one from "Swords and Tequila, "Flash-Rockin' Man", "2 Minutes to Midnight", etc). "Into The Coven" kicks it in high again with more catchy riffage and one hell of a solo. The solo in "At The Sound of the Demon Bell" is even better, getting pretty aggressive and shreddy later in the song. Quick speeder "Black Funeral" has a pretty good main riff, catchy and bouncy, but is otherwise just okay. Closer "Melissa" is a solid mid-paced masterpiece, with very emotional king vocals, great acoustic moments, and the odd heavier moment. I find the epic "Satan's Fall" to be a bit overrated. It's certainly good, but the riffs stretch on for too long and overall it just feels longer than it needs to be.
Overall, this is, for the most part, the classic people like to call it. King's amazing vox must be heard to be believed, and the catchy, strong performance of the rest of Mercyful Fate is top-notch. Highly recommended for those who dig evil but catchy occult-flavored heavy metal.
It's no secret that Mercyful Fate and specifically, the album "Melissa," are not only influential to countless bands, but also landmarks of the genre. It's inevitable that the same five albums will always appear in every publication's "Top 100 Metal Bands" list, but going beyond those albums and digging a little bit deeper will yield this gem, where nothing similar had appeared before and nothing quite like it has come around since.
The closest comparison that can be made about this album towards any band would be Judas Priest. With all due respect to the Priest, Mercyful Fate took what Priest had done in the 70s and brought it to a whole new level. Not only are the lyrics blatantly Satanic, the music sounds evil as well. The progressive tendencies of earlier Judas Priest have been taken to a whole new level as well. King Diamond is absolutely insane on vocals, going from a lower growl to a piercing falsetto whenever his black little heart desires. I once heard King Diamond's voice described as "sounding like Elmo...if Elmo was evil and going to kill you," but while the high-pitched aspect is there, I cannot help but take them seriously, thanks in part to the accompanying music.
The opener, "Evil" has one of the greatest heavy metal riffs ever written and is most likely the quintessential Mercyful Fate song. Aside from that awesome main riff, the whole song is filled with rhythm guitar parts (most likely influenced by Judas Priest and early Iron Maiden) that serve as a foundation not only for King Diamond's surprisingly infectious vocal lines, but for the plethora of (tremendous) solos that this song contains. On top of all these are lyrics about a zombie who is raised by Satan to kill a woman, and then precedes to engage in necrophilia with her corpse. Not only are these themes years ahead of their time, they're awesome and solid evidence that necrophilia is not only cool, but totally metal.
The Satanic themes show up in five of the six other songs, most strongly in the short but powerful "Black Funeral," which is not only one of the most straightforward songs, but also one of the most hard-hitting. Also particularly blasphemous is "Into the Coven," which was enough to make this album banned in many places for a while. It starts out with a deceptively sweet solo over upbeat and happy acoustic picking before turning into a dark Mercyful Fate song about a young woman being indoctrinated into Satanism.
The underrated "At The Sound of the Demon Bell" does a fine job of alternating between faster and slower parts and the opening scream of "HALLOWEEN!!!" still sends small chills down my spine. Hank Shermann's solo in the middle is arguably his best on the album. "Melissa" deceptively sounds like a ballad in the beginning but goes into several heavier riffs while building up and ends up being one of the most unique songs on this album and serves as a satisfying conclusion.
The monstrously epic (in length) "Satan's Fall" is really just a collection of leftover ideas thrown together, but there are the foundations of at least four really good songs scattered throughout there. It's still worth listening to even if it is a bit incoherent at times and not as essential as the rest of the material. The most well-known song is "Curse of the Pharaohs," where King Diamond sings a line and then raises his voice two octaves just for the hell of it. His range is something to behold and the guitar-work on this song is excellent as well.
There comes a time in every parent's life when their child will look at them with their wide eyes and innocently ask, "Daddy (or mommy)...where do thrash bands come from?" While it may be obvious to talk about Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and maybe the hardcore punk movement, "Melissa" by Mercyful Fate should be mentioned as well. The inclusion of a handful of riffs per song as well as odd time-signatures and unexpected tempo changes were quite influential in the Bay-area sound. Metallica acknowledged their debt to Mercyful Fate through their medley of Mercyful Fate songs on the "Garage Inc." album (which, while decent, doesn't hold a candle to the originals for many obvious reasons).
Unlike so-called contemporaries Venom, Mercyful Fate's members actually had quite a bit of talent and Melissa holds up far better than Venom's output of the time. The Satanic content may not have quite the same effect now that it did back in the early '80s, but it's much more convincing than at least 95% of evil and Satanic-themed songs that have been released since. Not even Slayer in their glory days were able to match the malevolence of the lyrics found here. "Melissa" stands the test of time quite capably. Not owning this album will get you labeled a false, where you will mostly likely be burned and died; you wouldn't want that, would you?
This borders on the fantastic; the supernatural and superstitious. The want for something to be there, hiding and lingering, for that sense of "awe." Whether in your search, you come out a 'new' you, or written down as a lost soul in one of those obscure books you've seldom heard about. This isn't for the strict and rigid minded, the I'll-see-it-when-I-believe-it type. The scientist that yearns for tangible results, no, or even the everyday skeptics, nah, more like for the wishful that wants to see something unexplained that wasn't there before. Essentially an escape from the mundane, and down that darkening path of transient evil, obscurities and ill-placed omens.
Swinging a cape that never ceases to amaze, wearing the face of a Kabuki mask or something ritually painted along the lines of Arthur Brown meets Kiss without the psychedelics or dark-fun, covered in cow-envying amounts of leather, and setting the stage for theatrics are what the front man of Mercyful Fate brings to the altar. King Diamond places his voice at your disposal, in a taunting, I-told-you-so projection, constantly changing and altering itself, like a shape-shifter gone awry and appearing like amorphous shadows: playful, jumpy and tense, laughing.
The music still has that 70's feel, still somewhat unshaken by the presented 80s. Amongst the guitars, a bass that co-pilots itself as musician-friendly, yet finding and uncovering decidedly worthwhile rhythms. This brings about drumming that has technical feats and worthy chops, filling those gaps like something fiendish was going to get through. This is up on solos like any other group wanting to become the next-generation guitar sensation. But finding a particular hair-raising atmosphere from a selective showmenship. That is one of the most important aspects to create mood in music, and can sometimes be missed with how many more notes you can fit into your belt. I feel there was a straying from the norm when Fate was doing them. Sure they were scaled to perfection, running their fingers possibly over the same areas as the next guy, but finding those particular ones in their case that can bring a song into an elevated atmosphere. The dual guitars come together on Melissa to mostly create an ailment of heaviness, with palm mutes and simplistic chords, giving a justifiable cure of paced fist-pumping and medium-headbangs to circulate the bad-blood coursing through your blackening veins. This is music that isn't boldly aggressive, yet it's embracing like an eye-locking, deadly stare. Some of the rhythms will use higher notes on the fretboard, sometimes having similar techniques to Motorhead and Venom at the time, with unintentional sleazy guitar lines. The title track even has clean guitars in some areas, which almost sounds like an adult-lullaby: heard before bed and is in turn nightmarish or potentially sleep-depraving.
'83 was a good year in metal for big first albums: Dio releasing Holy Diver, Metallica's Kill 'Em All, Slayer's Show No Mercy and here Mercyful Fate's Melissa. It must of gave an aspiring metal-head an early stroke from the earthquaking delivery of these releases. These, for the most part, were placed at a refined enough point that it just seemed natural for them to of come out. The line, 'Oh, that was just something we did back then,' is true and untrue in a sense. Here, Mercyful Fate already had a down-pat style on their first output, and you can logically imagine there being leagues of other bands sounding identical to them. However, they were a creative group of characters, teeming with energy and earning their rite to passage with this release due to a fusing of their old selves from previous bands. They definitely, and most importantly, had an angle and were all-around great musicians that were lined-up to have a following even when this first hit shelves and then record players, possibly over and over again at that point till even now.
Containing an evil—not entirely pinned down as just grim, ominous or vaguely dark; being quite possibly scary with a combination—but encompassing evil in the essence and fibers of the word. Yes, this combines music for the time, they find their mediums with song-writing, not coming completely out of the blue. But this delivers music in a decidedly evil and almost persuasive manner. The kind that pricks blood from the end of your finger, transforms on a full moon, and prefers the odd or jaded features of the universe to impose a ritualistic sense.
Even with all of the musicians playing with different personalities, it is music that still comes together as a whole. Mr. Diamond leads and drives forth fermenting, haunting deliveries overtop of the bottomless pit of your miseries. His voice is so unique that it would be a true document if someone could perfectly describe each qualifying note into exactness; each slip and duck; each build or climax. Although that might miss the point of its hidden mysteries through a wrongful unveiling. He attempts the 'thought' impossible with the possible here. Bringing his voice to high-pitched alternating falsettos, a medium melancholy, a deep tone, in ceremonial chorus-like fashion, and many different alternating factions between, around, and right through to create the event-horizon of vocalizing. To travel to places far and in-between with a story to tell about its foreboding journey into unknown parallels. A true testament of the texture of evil, and how it encompasses the peculiar and tainted.
The music on Melissa can speak volumes. This isn't putting it lightly or exaggerating what instruments can project through speakers. It is channeled in an affective way that embraces the responsiveness of your senses. Its creativity, and ultimately its elusiveness, to pin it down as a single part or dividend is the most important aspect here. Repetitious listens could yield varying results. For longevity's sake, that's probably the most rewarding part that a performer or musician could ask for. The kind of effect that brings an identity and a name to the track, instead of an all-too-similarness.
With opening leads to enchant or build a song, piercing high-noted singing to a tapping of alternating notes, bass that snakes and wraps around guitar plucking, drumming that pounds but doesn't project provoking speeds, produces music that is metal in the sense, to a blackened degree. With an aura that gives it dark emotions and rightful moods. It sets the stage with a thematic presentation and grips the audience with engaging music and concept. The King's voice is going to safely be such a unique quality when first heard, that I can imagine it bringing about different reactions from different people. Probably because the related voice to terror, anger, pain, panic, etc. might be viewed a little differently now with a grisly set-tone or a plain-old scream. However, Diamond was intricately painting his voice instead of using a somewhat blunt graffiti. Which both, when done, can still bring about an expression or a statement that someone wants to convey depending on who and how. Although, here, imagine a sort of metal-opera which would evolve with the band even traveling over to King Diamond's self-titled solo project. This should be looked at as in chapters, turned one at a time with anticipation for the next, while not wanting to excuse yourself between aisles for fear of missing something. Melissa is read at the top of the pamphlet in your hand, and, as a precaution, brace yourself for a sense-riddling show.
Mercyful Fate's debut full-length record, "Melissa" - is the record that every metal record, no matter the genre, wants to be when it grows up. Timeless, complex, venemous, heavy as all hell and contaminated with too much talent for its own good, "Melissa" is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Not only is this one of the greatest metal records of all time, I would consider it one of the greatest records of all time, period - genres not withstanding. Musically, this album delivers all the goods: A gigantic arsenal of sinister riffs revealed in machine gun succession throughout the roller-coaster like compositions (these aren't songs, folks, they're compositions), dueling solos, neo-classical influence throughout, stellar, brutal drum work that features hardly any mindless blasting like so many modern metal bands, vivid, visual and most of all fun lyrics to make the whole thing larger than life, a completley Satanic and demonic presentation, some of the most insane vocal acrobatics this side of Freddie Mercury. But enough mindless raving, let us take a real good look at this record.
First of all, I have to talk about the riffs. Mercyful Fate are noted for their complex song structures - and that is exactly it, MF's songs are intricately structured, but the riffs themselves really are not all that technical. For the most part, it is your standard powerchord fare, only the notes are arranged in a far more complex, intricate fashion to make it sound as mindboggling as early Watchtower. And not only this - but Hank Sherman and Michael Denner have a knack for writing some of the creepiest, most demonic sounding riffs you will ever hear. And not only that, but Sherman and Denner are the greatest guitar duo to ever grace the halls of any kind of metal. Both are two of the most capable guitarists I have ever heard - Sherman having a more structured, melodic, classical soloing style, and Denner being more of the shred-crazy, bluesy balls-to-the-wall type. Their exchanges are breathtaking, and really trailblaze throughout the album, and leave you gasping for breath. Sometimes it is hard to tell when one mans solo ends and the others begins everything happens so fast, but the unique stylistic differences really let you know who is playing what. And their melodic, harmonized passages are extremley beautiful. "Melissa", the song, has one of the most beautiful opening solos ever played - it honestly, truly, sounds, as was mentioned before, as if someone were crying. It is raw emotion channeled through six strings, and always leaves me a bit shaken up from the profound beauty. Speaking of profound intro, check out the classical intro to "Into the Coven" - featuring a haunting, minor key classical melody played on an acoustic guitar underneath a blistering, Ritchie Blackmore-esque solo. "Into the Coven" itself is one of the best songs at the record - relentless, satanic and unreal in execution. Needless to say, you will find some of the best guitar playing you have ever heard on "Melissa", courtesy of Mr. Denner and Mr. Sherman, truly and underrated couple of guitarists if there ever was one.
Also worth mentioning is the bass playing. Unless your Les Claypool or Brian Bromberg, the bass usually takes a back seat within the production of a record, and really never stands out too much from the other instruments, or differentiates from the guitar riffs. On "Melissa", Timi Grabber really holds his own, providing nice counter melodys, and really anchoring the whole thing down with unfaultering solidity. Kudos to you, Mr. Grabber - wherever you are now.
The drumming, like I mentioned before - is top notch. Brutal, stellar, and really ahead of its time - complex time signatures thrown on top of standard metal drumming fare, lightning fast fills and a real signature style that is unmistakably Kim Ruzz. And the real nice thing about the whole thing is that hardly anywhere will you find double-bass pummeling, blasturbation or any of that bullshit which has become so popular within extreme music lately. This is pure skill, talent and finese.
And then there is King Diamond. I could write a book about how the mans voice and his music have effected me and changed my life, and how he has fronted two of my very favorite bands, and is in my opinion on of the greatest vocalist of all times - no matter what genre we are talking about. I could talk about how I admire him for being so ahead of his time and blatant with his lyrics, and how he inspired to observe my life and my philisophical beliefs and quit subscribing to the half-baked, hypocritical bullshit that the masses want us to follow and make up my own mind. But I won't. I will just tell you all that this man is a master vocalist, a master of theatrics, and a master lyricist - and all of this shines on "Melissa". You will never heard vocal acrobatics like these anywhere else within any style of music. Each falsetto shriek he lets out sends chills up and down my spine. The man is a god.
Each and every song on "Melissa" is perfect in every way, but standout cuts, for me, include the neo-classical romp of "Into the Coven", the gut-busting riff-fest that is "Curse of the Pharoahs", the anthemic "Black Funeral", which is quite possibly one of the most evil fucking songs ever recorded, and the tear-jerking epic that is the title track.
If you don't own this album, I pity you. Buy it. This record re-defines the word classic.
Mercyful Fate's debut album is generally considered a classic, a milestone in Metal history. Usually I don't attach much value to terms like that. For example, I don't own any Metallica album because I just don't like them. But that "classic album" label was in this case the reason for me to check out the album. From what I understood, this album was a very influential one for many Thrash and Black Metal bands to come. And since I like a lot of those Thrash bands, I decided to give this album a chance.
Even though the band is not British, Mercyful Fate is from Denmark to be exact, basically what you're getting here is the darker side of NWOBHM. Maybe not as dark as Venom, but that's just because Mercyful Fate consists of musicians that are much more capable than Venom's. That very capable musicianship as well as the dark side of the music is portrayed best in the eleven and a half minute epic 'Satan's Fall', in which there is a whole shitload of killer riffs with every riff being something darker and more powerful than the one before and every part seemingly entering a new layer of hell. 'Satan's Fall' is a good showcase of the pure genius of this band and of the possibilities of Metal in general. Despite its length, the song is over before you even notice it takes that long. Add the guitar solos that are nothing short of amazing to that and that song alone will already be worth the price you'll pay for this album.
However, there's a downside to this band too, and that downside will be remembered by the name of King Diamond. King is a singer you'll either love or despise and I definitely belong to the latter. The "I can do high pitched screams and I will prove that as much as possible"-vocalist is taking his high pitches to the extreme! He gives the word "ear piercing" a whole new meaning, just check out the second part of the aforementioned 'Satan's Fall', the way he screams "home" makes me want to choke him. And at times he's not screaming and attempting to sing, singing off-key is a rule rather than an exception. It's really too bad, because King Diamond has proven over the years, with Mercyful Fate as well as with his solo band, that he knows how to surround himself with stellar musicians and songwriters. Another minus about this album is also from his hand, and I'm talking about the ridiculous "hail Satan"-lyrics. They're very cheesy to say the least!
But luckily the music on this album is amazing enough to largely compensate for that. In fact, apart from closing title track, which starts out promising, with a clean guitar part and an eye-watering guitar solo which left me thinking "oh my god, the guy's not going to sing over this, is he" (he was...), but kind of keeps on dragging towards the end and has some really weak riffs there, 'Melissa' is as close to musical perfection as it gets. And I don't use that term lightly.
Something I often attach a lot of value to is a good opener and 'Melissa' definitely has that in the form of 'Evil'. It's actually a cool thing that the title of your first song on your first album describes your sound so much. The song is a good display of what is to come too, the song contains a lot of great riffs and changes, giving 'Evil' a certain complexity without even getting that complex, which would become Mercyful Fate's trademark on the many albums to come. A lot of the riffs are quite different from each other, but somehow manage to flow over into each other quite well. Many songwriters at the time as well as today should take an example out of this.
The following 'Curse Of The Pharaohs' is a bit simpler and has King Diamond screaming a lot less, but that doesn't by any means mean that it's a weaker song. On the contrary, 'Curse Of The Pharaohs' is probably my favorite track off the album. The riffs in this song are midtempo and very strong and in total, the song is quite catchy. A special note here is that King Diamond isn't half as annoying as in the other tracks on this one. The song has a distinct Black Sabbath-vibe, the intro strongly reminds me of the title track of 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath', but is unmistakably Mercyful Fate, even without the vocals!
'Into The Coven' starts out a bit odd, with a guitar solo over an acoustic guitar prelude in a much different key and atmosphere than the rest of the album. Shortly after it turns into a strong, typical Mercyful Fate song full of great guitar leads and riffs. This is a song that has an atmosphere that just grabs you by the throat, pulls you into the song and doesn't let you go until it's over. Although the guitar solos on the entire album are great, I think the ones in 'Satan's Fall' and 'Into The Coven' stand out a bit more than the rest.
'At The Sound Of The Demon Bell' and 'Black Funeral' are less memorable than the rest of 'Melissa', but not by any means worse than the rest. 'At The Sound Of The Demon Bell' is a bit more progressive when it comes to rhythms and has a really cool riff right before the guitar solo starts and 'Black Funeral' is more of the standard, gallopping NWOBHM stuff. You won't hear me complain about that.
When you're fortunate enough to get your hands on the CD and DVD digipack remaster by Roadrunner Records, like I was, you're getting a couple of nice bonus tracks with it. The first one is a track called 'Black Masses' which, in my humble opinion, should have been on the album. It's a very cool track which definitely outdoes the title track of the album. Then there's a trio of BBC Radio 1 Sessions, 'Curse Of The Pharaohs', 'Evil' and 'Satan's Fall'. Those songs are, together with 'Into The Coven', the best songs on the album and sound even better in this semi-live setting. Semi-live because King Diamond seems to have done some overdubs, as you hear him twice at some points. Definitely worth checking out. Closing the remaster are the demo versions of 'Curse Of The Pharaohs' and 'Black Funeral'. 'Curse Of The Pharaohs' actually had more riffs on that version, but I think the simplified one that eventually ended up on 'Melissa' is the better one and apparently, the band agrees with me on that.
The DVD portion is an average audience recorded video of Mercyful Fate at the Dynamo club in Eindhoven, Holland. Nothing really special at all and King Diamond's boring commentary, which is optional, doesn't save the DVD portion from being a worthless piece of shit. The CD is amazing though!
So here's what you get: a very good, dark Heavy Metal album which will give you some quality listening time, as long as you like King Diamond's vocals or if you can at least tolerate them. Mercyful Fate would never make an album as good as this one again, but it's better to make one near perfect album than never to make a good one at all.
From the howling vocals to the killer riffs and awesome atmosphere, this is the grade-A shit I need. While the songs and the production are not up to par with Don't Break the Oath, this is a classic in it's own right and it needs to be owned by every metalhead.
WHAT? You DON'T own this? Something must be seriously wrong with you. Really, you can't come up with a valid excuse to not have this.
OK, so I must stop the ranting and give the album a description, 'cause that's what reviews are for. Let's see.....this starts with the Fate classic "Evil", one of the greatest songs ever made by this band and the only one on ths album that I feel owns every single tune on The Oath. It is composed by a miriad of riffs and changes on direction that makes you feel the song lasts more than it does, not because it is boring, of course. King's vocals own you. "Curse of the Pharaohs" is more of the same, starting rockish and going straight for the throat in the middle. King's vocals own you. The eerie "Into the Coven" (which I think it was censored in certain countries) is more simple but equally killer in the riff work and I think is the one with the most dark atmosphere of the first four tracks. "Sound of the Demon Bell" it's like Sabbath near Sabotage if Hank Shermann shared the guitar duties with Iommi, got Ozzy kicked out of the band in favor of King and replaced the LSD trip sessions with black masses and blood. Nice work with the arrangements, as always. King's vocals own you.
"Black Funeral" is short and to the point. A friend of mine found the singing to be bad and out of tune, but what the hell does he know. Because we all know that King's vocals own him and you. Yes, I said it three more times already, back off, I'm the one reviewing this. "Satan's Fall" is the long epic of the album featuring everything from NWOBHM-ish guitar work to doomy acoustic passages. A fucking classic in it's own right and well worth to be heard in order to understand Mercyful Fate's skills on the songwriting department. Then the love ballad (I think is about love, in a twisted manner, of course) Melissa starts clean and with a superb emotional guitar solo, then goes to the heavy part and obliterates you in the middle with a nice riff attack.
Of course you need this, read the second paragraph from this review.
King's vocals own you.
Fucking killer album. Get it or die a worthless, pathetic loser.
Too bad I can't leave the review right there, but if I did, that's all you need to know. Back in the VERY early 80s, before genres and demands of 'trueness' or 'brutality' entered the picture, people demanded energy and originality of their metal, and Mercyful Fate was NOT a band that left people disappointed. Their self-titled EP took the underground by storm the year before, bowling people over with a mixture of elements that nobody before or since has ever matched - heavy riffs and amazing solos, adventurous song structures that owe as much to traditional metal as to classic hard-rock (i.e. Rainbow, Deep Purple, etc.), sinister, truly evil lyrics COMPLETELY obsessed with satanism and the occult, and those ever-famous operatic, almost theatrical vocals of King Diamond. The problem with the EP was that it was on a tiny label and very few people actually got to hear it. Someone at Roadrunner did, though, and they wasted no time in signing the group, who themselves wasted no time getting into the studio and recording their debut full-length, Melissa.
The opening song, "Evil", sets the stage for the whole album - It's a whirlwind of mood-tempo changes that manages to stay coherent and focused, based around a core of several great riffs, capped off with some seriously scary, blasphemous vocals and two great, even more scary solo sections. And so on. "Curse of the Pharaohs", "Into the Coven", "At the Sound of the Demon Bell", etc. - you'd almost think Hank Shermann was the man who signed the pact with the devil, because he keeps up an endless stream of tight, aggressive riffing throughout, and his talent for song arrangements keeps you constantly wondering where they're going next. There are only two gripes I have with this album: First, what the hell is up with "Satan's Fall"? Most people see it as an eleven-minute masterpiece of epic proportions; however, for once I think Hank Shermann took the arrangements a bit too far - too many of the changes are just the band stopping while one guitar plays the next riff, then playing on that for a couple of minutes before stopping while one guitar plays the next riff... it comes off as a collection of great riffs rather than an epic song (though it does have an excellent acoustic/clean electric solo section near the end, and the riffs themselves are good - the arrangement is just uncharacteristically amateurish). Second is the production. It's clean, but far too dry - the guitars don't have nearly as much bite as on the previous EP or on the next album, and that limp sound really sapped the energy out of some of these songs (for comparison, compare the versions of "Evil", "Curse...", and "Satan's Fall" here to the live versions on The Beginning, or compare this recording of "Black Funeral" with the version on the Metallic Storm compilation). Still, neither of those gripes undermine the fact that Melissa is a landmark album in the realm of extreme metal, and if it's not in your collection then your collection isn't worth all that much...
(Originally published at LARM (c) 1999)